2014 Leadership Award Recipient: Driven to succeed

2014 Leadership Award Recipient: Driven to succeed

Features - The Big Picture

Tom Canete learned early on that there is no substitute for hard work and dedication.

September 15, 2014
Jeff Fenner
Leadership Awards

Do most landscape business owners have a solid customer base for their lawn mowing and snow removal services before they reach middle school? The answer is no unless you were Tom Canete.

Canete’s entrepreneurial spirit started with his securing a paper route at the age of nine after his father went to the paper’s regional manager to vouch for him and guarantee the papers would be delivered. However, the elder Canete never had to toss a paper on a front porch as his son took charge and grew his route to more than 100 customers.

Exhibiting an entrepreneurial streak beyond his years Canete expanded beyond his paper delivery route and started cutting grass and shoveling snow for customers and a business that continues to grow today was born.

“I shoveled the driveways and sidewalks by hand for two years until my grandfather gave me a snow blower that I had to pay off by doing chores on weekends at his house,” Canete recalls.

Canete’s grandfather was his mentor and the person who had the strongest influence on him. His grandfather was an artist and owned a studio that restored stained glass windows for churches all over New England and Canete (who was named after his grandfather) would spend weekends watching and learning.

“I would get up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday and go in with him and watch how he and his partner ran the business,” Canete says. “They were very well organized and got a lot done by blocking off chunks of time to accomplish tasks. They were also terrific with customers and always went the extra mile to accommodate them. They were great examples of leadership and entrepreneurship.”

Canete’s entrepreneurial skills were evident when he started making glass jewelry boxes as a hobby while hanging around his grandfather’s shop. His parents – a biochemist and nurse – would take samples of the boxes to their place of work and soon Canete found himself with a stack of orders.

As his lawn cutting business grew, Canete needed a heavier duty mower and again his grandfather stepped in to help as well as teach a valuable lesson on finances. Canete purchased a 21-inch Bobcat mower for $300 – which he still has today – and paid his grandfather back every two weeks until the debt was retired.

“I would pull the mower behind my bike then moped. When I added a trimmer I would tie it on to the mower and off I went,” says Canete with a laugh.

By the time he reached high school, Canete had 30 customers and a crew of two helping him cut grass, edge, trim, spread mulch and remove snow. His first company vehicle was a 1966 Chevrolet pickup truck that he restored, a task the mechanically inquisitive Canete enjoyed.

“I had a shop in the garage and learned to weld when I was 14 so I was always tinkering with something whether it was a mower, go-cart or mini-bike,” Canete says.

Following his graduation from high school in 1986, Canete attended William Paterson University but a desire to learn more about the turf he was cutting and the plants he was trimming led him to transfer to Rutgers University to study horticulture. And all the while he was hitting the books he continued to expand his business and add crews.

After college, Canete threw himself into his growing business and today owns and operates the 22nd largest snow and ice management company in the United States. Over the years, Canete admits that he has learned from the school of hard knocks but has remained true to his business philosophy of working hard and never stopping to try and find a way to make it work.

Today, in addition to Canete Snow Management, he operates Canete Landscape and Canete Garden Center in his home state of New Jersey. He manages all three operations with the same zest and zeal he had when he was dragging his mower behind his moped, but he has learned that delegation is essential.

“It was hard for me to delegate, but I had to do it and I’m very fortunate to have a team of managers and staff that I trust and who are very capable,” Canete says.

Canete also has a work curfew – 6:30 p.m. during the week and 3:00 p.m. on Saturday – that he and his wife, Darlene, who manages the office, have agreed upon to help the former body builder maintain a healthy work-life balance and to spend time with nine-year old son, Jake, who has cerebral palsy.

When it comes to sharing his time and talents with others, Canete’s generosity matches the enthusiasm and energy he displays in his own business.

Canete is the current president of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association as well on the Board of Directors for The Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA).

Jody Shilan, executive director of the NJLCA, says he is amazed how Canete juggles the demands of his business and the associations and community groups he is involved in.

“He is passionate about everything he does and there is no half-way with Tom,” Shilan says. “He leads by example and is willing to share information about his operations with anyone – competitors included – who want to learn. His energy level and genuineness set him apart.”

Kevin Gilbride, executive director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA), says Canete saw the vision and mission of the newly formed snow and ice management advocacy group from day one and that he has demonstrated true leadership ability in his many committee and legislative efforts on behalf of the association.

“He is so well respected by his peers because he is driven to succeed in all areas of his life,” Gilbride says. “He competes hard but gives back even more to the industry and community.”

When the National Football League awarded Super Bowl XLVIII to Northern New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, many pundits wondered if the image savvy league had collectively lost its mind.

They asked, “Who would put the league’s biggest game in a cold weather climate when warm-weather locations like San Diego, Miami and New Orleans were perfectly capable of hosting the event?”

But the NFL wanted to bring the Super Bowl to a northern climate and placing the game across the Hudson River from the media capital of the world was too attractive of a proposition to pass up

Hosting a Super Bowl requires mountains of logistics support, including extensive security protocols, transportation issues and securing hotel rooms for the thousands of fans, media members and VIP guests that will be in attendance.

Another item making the extensive to do list was snow and ice management. What would happen if Mother Nature decided to dump five inches of snow and ice two hours before kickoff? What would that do to New Jersey’s already snarled traffic in and around the stadium? Would fans paying hundreds of dollars for their seat find it buried in snow? Would stadium concourses and ramps present a major slip and fall liability?

The answers to those questions started being formulated in May 2013, nearly 10 months before the game when Canete received a call to submit a bid for the project.

“A lot of other companies were not submitting bids because of the size and scope of the project or because of the amount of labor required,” Canete says. “Even my wife thought we were crazy for bidding on it.”

Canete met with the facility’s COO and they were impressed with the company’s portfolio and after a lot of negotiation, they came to an agreement for Canete’s firm to provide snow and ice management services for inside the stadium.

This meant Canete and his crews would be ensuring that thousands of New York Giants and Jets fans would be able to safely reach their seats on any given Sunday in late fall and early winter should a snow and ice event occur. It also meant Canete needed to hit the recruiting trail and find 500 reliable workers to staff the project.

“To get 500 reliable workers you need a pool of 2,000 names and you had to have the ability to contact them and have them report to the stadium should a storm move in,” Canete says. “We worked a lot of job fairs and classified adds to get the word out.”

Canete hired a project manager and several supervisors dedicated strictly to the project which had to adhere to strict protocols such as no worker could enter the facility without a supervisor present. And when it came to staffing the Super Bowl, every worker had to be cleared by the FBI before they could be hired.

“We started submitting names back in August (2013) and did not find out if they were cleared until January in some cases,” Canete says. “We lost some applicants in the process and had to scramble to fill those positions.”

The first major test of Team Canete’s mettle came on Saturday, Dec. 14, the night before the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks played the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Seven inches of snow fell on the stadium. Canete’s crews activated the storm action plan to remove the snow from the seats and get the stadium ready for the 80,000 fans who were attending the game.

Canete’s snow and ice management team worked efficiently in prepping the seating areas, entrances and concourses for the game. Canete filed away the lessons learned and the areas for improvement to prepare for a potential snow event during the Super Bowl. But as everyone knows the weather played no factor in the game as the Seahawks routed the Denver Broncos, 43-8, with Canete’s crews standing by and ready to spring into action.

And in an ironic ending, it appeared that Mother Nature couldn’t resist scoring a touchdown of her own the day after the Super Bowl when seven inches of snow fell upon on empty stadium.


Jeff Fenner is a Cleveland-based writer and frequent Snow Magazine contributor.

Photo by Vicki Jeromos-Blayney

For more online
Want more about this leadership award winner? Check out a video of their 2014 Leadership Award acceptance speech at this year’s Executive Summit in Miami. Go to snowmagazineonline.com and click on the “Multimedia” tab to access the videos.